Is a Bible translation the inspired Word of God? Yes—to the extent that the translation relays to the reader what God directed the authors to write. No—to the extent that it misses the meaning of what God originally communicated.

Missing the meaning can happen in different ways: One can add to the original or omit something from it or can translate so that no meaning (i.e., confusion) or the wrong meaning is transmitted. All efforts at translation are in danger of committing errors of each type.

Experience teaches us that even a partially defective translation can still transmit a great deal of the content of what God expressed through the original writings of Scripture. (If that were not so, then readers of an English-language Bible would be in serious trouble indeed!) It also teaches us that neither the translator nor his readers are thereby free from the effects of those elements that were not correctly or adequately transmitted.

Does God through the Holy Spirit help the translator today? The answer is, emphatically, yes! Does this guarantee that the work of the translator will be free from any error or misinformation? Experience says no. Perhaps some translators could be said to be more “inspired” than others to the extent that they are more able to appropriate the guiding impulses of the Holy Spirit.

I prefer to say that some translations reflect God’s message more accurately and more adequately than do others. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that any version that is not the original Hebrew or Greek is a translation prepared by one or more human beings!

“Some say that translation is a science; some say it is an art; others say it is impossible.” Each of these statements is partly true. If we neglect science, we do not know what content and style the source documents intended to express, nor do we know what forms in the receptor language can appropriately be used to express that same content and intent. If we neglect art, we fail to have insight into the attitudes of the authors and are unable to blend into the translation both the content and the “feel” of a passage in an appropriate way. We might have the “words” and still miss the “music.” Neither art nor science can substitute for the other, but they make excellent—and crucial—companions!

Translation is impossible—if we mean that even an appreciable proportion of the same sound, grammar, and meaning combinations in any given source language can be duplicated acceptably in any given receptor language. Translation is quite possible, on the other hand, if we mean by translation that we represent the content of the source document in such a way that the full effect and intent of the author is made available to the reader. This requires that the translators bring to bear upon their task all the resources of both art and science that they can command, trusting the Holy Spirit of God to direct the way these resources are used.

This is an excerpt from The Origin of the Bible by F. F. Bruce, J. I. Packer, Philip Comfort, and Carl F. H. Henry. To read more, you can purchase this book from many Christian bookstores and online retailers, including

Elliot, R. L., et al. The Origin of the Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2020.